Kentucky plumber adds septic services and develops a new customer base while learning the ins and outs of business management.
Boyce Elza’s experience as a plumber and business owner goes back to 1994. His most recent venture, Busy Bee Plumbing, opened in 2008 in London, Kentucky. In 2012, he acquired a septic service business, allowing him to provide a more complete line of services.
With an engineering degree, and former business interests that include new construction, Boyce is realizing his ambition to build the business while encountering the many challenges that face the industry today.
Q: What do you consider to be the No. 1 challenge for plumbers?
BOYCE: We plumbers are trained to fix things. Even with an engineering degree, we are not taught how to do the best business practices. We’re not trained how to make business plans or how to do market research. When you talk business to most plumbers, their eyes glaze over and we get lost in our own world and do not hear what is being said. Plumbers need a good business coach.
Q: What have you learned from your various business ventures over the years?
BOYCE: Not to get so much overhead that you cannot handle it. The biggest challenge is watching the money coming in and going out. Another is not getting the regular paycheck as when you work for somebody else.
We at Busy Bee want to pay cash for what we buy. We started this company with one old plumbing truck that we paid cash for. When we bought the septic business we got the pumper truck and the telephone list. It was not a big dollar investment. We’ve had that telephone number since we bought the company and we still get telephone calls from that.
Q: Did including the septic business provide a needed service for your customers?
BOYCE: Sometimes we would get to a house where they had stopped-up lines going to the septic tank. The whole house was backed up and we used to call the septic people to come. When that company was looking to sell, it was a good match for us and a good acquisition for us.
Q: Tell us about the area you serve. Are you near a metropolitan area?
BOYCE: We don’t go much into metropolitan areas. Lexington is about 70 miles north and Knoxville is about 70 miles south. We mostly serve the small towns but we’ll go about a 100-mile radius.
Q: How is the company doing right now?
BOYCE: I figure we are in the middle of growing pains right now. In 2016, I was doing all the work except driving the septic truck. I was killing myself. Now I have a journeyman plumber and one technician who runs the septic truck.
Now I can spend time figuring out how the business will grow and if we should go into the lining business. We do about 70 percent work in plumbing and 30 percent in septic.
Q: Your family works in the office?
BOYCE: My wife, Tammy, runs the office and my daughter, Lindsey, takes care of our website and social media, and my brother, Stanley, is our bookkeeper.
Q: Was having both residential and commercial clients something you planned when you started Busy Bee Plumbing?
BOYCE: We do about 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential. It was not something we planned. It works out that you find yourself available to do the jobs that come in.
For commercial customers we do a lot of drain cleaning, especially for restaurants and for property management firms. We take care of Walmart and Big Lots, overseeing all their mechanical needs.
Q: What is your policy on buying equipment?
BOYCE: We have had the policy to pay cash for equipment and not to buy new equipment. I have a Mongoose trailer jetter that I found in a junkyard. I needed a jetter and we use it quite a bit. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one.
Last spring I got a little foolish and bought a Dodge ProMaster. We’ve always paid cash. Now I have a payment and I don’t know if I like that. But I love that vehicle. I can stand up inside and have plenty of room and it is air-conditioned. I don’t have to worry about it breaking down.
At the same time, we have a 2004 Chevrolet 3500 van that we use. It has 250,000 miles and still works for us.
Q: You have the store while many in your area work out of their truck. Why was it important for you to establish your business this way?
BOYCE: Because I wanted to build something that I could sell or pass on to my daughter. That is my ambition. We are on a main drag, and we are highly visible.